#YouTriedIt: Complicating Comparisons of Drag and Blackface

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By Jay Dodd

A recent post from Mary Cheney (Fmr. Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter), she positioned the work of drag in comparison to that of blackface.Before we get any further, I think it is important to reiterate this comparison is sloppy and not needed. There are a variety of ways to critique drag (which we will get to) but to position it in conversation with such explicit anti-Blackness is intellectually lazy and erases many intersections of gender and race. Though there is a question underneath the sweeping sentiment. As Slate contributor Miz Cracker (a white/white-passing drag queen) already propositioned:

Is drag degrading to women?

I believe inherently, no, however with the rampant misogyny in the queer/gay community, I’m am slow to believe that we are doing enough to combat degradation. An often misguided rhetoric around drag is that performers all want to be women, or are committed to replicating women. Yes, there are many trans drag queens/kings, but the performance aspect is the critical feature. Like theater, dance, music and most art forms there are a variety of drag styles. The vocabulary of drag is so expansive there many entrances of empowerment and subversiveness to notions of femininity.

An often used critique is that drag queens, mock femininity / women. As part of Cheney’s original critique she mentioned that drag artists often “act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.)”. This doesn’t address the problem of how personality traits are gendered and misogyny colors our adjective use. This thinking points at the symptom of (some largely uncreative) drag performances and not at the misogyny that permeates such creations. A problem with the cis-queer community is misogyny (not to mention racismtransphobia, among others). This is why many drag performances feel mocking or condescending.

The work of blackface, however, is only violent.

 Mockery and shame and historical violence are rampant throughout blackface. From America’s first film to Hollywood starlets looking “halloween fun,” minstrelsy rests on reproducing Black subject available for demonization and ridicule. The history of blackface as part of American theater paints how violently un-human, Black folk are seen and read. There is very specific white supremacist power in minstrelsy’s long popularity that drag will never attain.

The politics of queer performance are too nuanced and multi-faceted to be compared to the archaic and vehemently damaging act of minstrelsy.

Discussions of why blackface is the worst are long catalogued and researched and the one aspect of this discussion that has yet to surface ishow many drag queens adopt certain minstrelsies under the guise of “performance”. White queens can often be clocked fetishizing Black men, using AAVE, utilizing coded Black (and Latin@) tropes for their acts/characters, not to mention blatantly tanning + blackening their skin for performances. Like the underlying misogyny, there is a unsettling current of racism that can permeate drag and those are the only places were a comparison can be drawn.

The politics of queer performance are too nuanced and multi-faceted to be compared to the archaic and vehemently damaging act of minstrelsy. There are ways to critique drag, but any reading must direct its accusation to the misogynistic and racist centers of the offense.

 

This post originally appeared here.

Queering Black History & Getting Free

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By Dominique Hazzard

I am a queer black woman. By this I mean that the words to describe my sexuality exist outside the margins, between the approved boundaries, beyond the limits of most imaginations. A queer thing is a thing that existing words cannot yet adequately describe, a thing that our language and our boxes have not yet evolved to capture. And what does “queering” something mean? To me it means turning the thing on its head: questioning its assumed narratives, reworking its categories, and upending its status quo.

Let’s queer black history.

Lifting Up the Stories of Black LGBTQ People

Queering black history means lifting up the stories of black LGBTQ people. It means resolving that not one more child (or adult) learns about the “I Have a Dream” speech without learning about Bayard Rustin, the man who led the planning of the March on Washington- at least not on our watch. It means really learning about him- knowing his contributions to the Civil Rights Movements, reading Time On Two Crosses right next to The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, having discussions in our classrooms and on our Facebook pages about Letters from the Birmingham Jail while also discussing why Bayard Rustin too was arrested, how he was relegated to the background by his peers, and what we must do to prevent that from ever again happening in the black freedom movement.

Queering black history means canonizing Marsha P. Johnson as a matriarch of black America. Putting her face on those calendars and poster collages right next to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Coretta Scott King, and Michelle Obama.  It means studying her ACT-UP campaigns in high school classrooms. It means mourning her too-early death just as we mourn deaths of cisgender men like Malcom and Medgar. It means examining why it took 20 years for the NYPD to investigate that death as a murder, and having conversations about the role of the black freedom movement in bringing about trans liberation today. marshapjohnson.jpg

Complicating the Stories of The Historical Figures We Know

Queering black history goes wider and deeper than the inclusion and recentering of queer folks. Remember that “queering” also means re-working. We must rework and complicate the stories we tell about the black figures we are familiar with.

Rosa Parks, for example, was not only told to get to the back of the bus. She was also told by an NAACP supervisor, for whom she later worked as a secretary, that women should stay in the kitchen. As we study her resistance against both attacks on her black womanhood, a queering of black history requires us to ask why we leave that piece out of the story, and how we can ensure that our contemporary movements are safe spaces for people living at the intersections.

Billie Holiday was a prolific jazz singer. She was also a heroin addict and the first major target of the federal government’s war on drugs. Henry Anslinger, virulent racist and first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, intentionally turned a blind eye to the addictions of prominent white entertainers while obsessing over Holiday and his dream of bringing the full force of the federal government down upon her head. She died shackled to a hospital bed, denied appropriate treatment by the federal government, with police officers in her door. Billie Holiday has an important place not only in the history of black music, but in the history of black people, the police, and resistance.

Seeking Out New Stories

But if we are to queer black history then we must dig deeper, do more than adding nuance to the narratives of those we already know and love. We also have to study and celebrate the black people who have been erased, hidden from our collective memories.  We have to move beyond the shiny negroes- the astronauts, entrepreneurs, athletes, entertainers, and organizers who have been deemed respectable enough to be worthy of our memory. We have to look between the cracks and find our incarcerated heroes, our undocumented leaders, our luminary sex workers, the people that systems of oppression most desperately want us to forget. And we have to teach those stories to each other.

We have to do the work of intentionally remembering people like Carol Crooks. I just learned her name while doing research for this post. She doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. But she is worth remembering. Carol Crooks was a woman who became an organizer while incarcerated at Bedford Hills, a maximum security prison in New York.

In February of 1974, Carol Crooks had a severe migraine and asked to be taken to see the prison nurse. When her guard denied her request, she tried to push past her and get to the nurse anyway. In response to this incident, Crooks was beaten, stripped naked, and placed for into a solitary confinement cell for three days. Crooks later filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of sentencing inmates to solitary confinement with no trial or formal charges. She won her case, and the warden was found guilty of unconstitutional treatment of a prisoner.

That August, Crooks was returned to solitary with no formal charges. The next morning, a group of women went to the warden and demanded Crooks’ release, alleging that the solitary confinement of Crooks was retaliatory. The women were ignored and told to go to bed 3 hours earlier than usual. They refused to comply. The guards began to assault the women in response to the insubordination. The women seized the guards’ weapons and fought back. They took over the prison, in what is now known as the August Rebellion, until state troopers subdued them about 4 hours later.

Carol Crooks is part of a queered black history.

Disrupting the Centralized, Charismatic Leader Narrative

Next we must question the very ideal of black history through the lens of the individual. We must ask ourselves: why does the history we choose to remember so often come in the form of charismatic and solitary pioneers, centralized leadership, the folks out front?

Queering black history means remembering everyday people, the struggles they faced, and the work they did. It means recognizing the extraordinary in the ordinary black people who were told their lives didn’t matter, but still contained a fierce will to live, and love, and fight for freedom. It means valuing all different types of black leadership- the folks who were behind the scenes, who were quiet, who were less than charming, who didn’t win but set the stage for those who later would, who rose to the occasion because they had to and then when back to their regularly scheduled lives. It means celebrating collectives, and group efforts, and conglomerations of movers, shakers, and neighbors whose names we won’t ever know.

I want us to upend the status quo by including the Contract Buyers League of the South Side of Chicago in our Civil Rights Movement narrative. The Contract Buyers League was a group of over 500 people living on the Southside of Chicago in the 1970s who had bought their homes through predatory loans after being shut out of the mainstream home loan market by racist laws. They banded together, filed suit against the speculators who were cheating them, and demanded their money back. They lost. But the Contract Buyers League is part of a queered black history.

I want us to queer black history by teaching about the residents of the Arthur Capper Public Housing community in Washington, D.C. These residents saw businesses, and particularly grocery stores, disinvest from their Southeast community in the 1970s. They decided to take matters into their own hands. As the mythology of entitled black welfare queens and lazy project thugs was gaining steam across the country, the residents worked together to start a community owned small business. They built the Martin Luther King Food Co-Op and harnessed the power of cooperative economics to nourish a black community trying to survive in a hostile white world. We don’t know the names of everyone who accomplished this feat, but the residents of the now-demolished Arthur Capper Public Housing project are part of a queered black history.

Acknowledging Our Dirt, Holding Our Pain

A queered black history cannot be sanitized. Filing down black history’s sharp edges would make sense if the only point of studying it was to make ourselves feel good. Sweeping the flaws of our black icons under the rug would be reasonable if the goal of black history was to convince a white society that black people are good and smart, that we can be honorable too, that our lives matter. But I don’t believe that either of these goals are what black history is about.

I believe that we learn black history because doing so will help us to get free. And in order to accomplish this goal, to be able to learn from the fullness of our past, we have to approach it with a queer lens. We have to bring to black history a quality that the black queer community embodies at its best- the unconditional acceptance of people’s full and real selves.

Our history is what it is. Sometimes we didn’t overcome. Sometimes our faves were misogynists. Sometimes our idols were reckless and led movements into the ground. Sometimes effective and powerful black leaders were on crack. Sometimes our stories are not glistening stories of hope and triumph and movin’ on up, but stories of mistakes made. Sometimes they are stories of pain and loss, death, and things being taken from us.  But they are stories that have something to teach us nonetheless.

Let’s queer black history. Let’s reimagine it as an opportunity to celebrate black heroes, leaders, and everyday people. Let’s use it to remember and mourn the black lives that white supremacy has ripped from our arms. Let’s use it as a chance to learn from the lives of black people at all different intersections, black people whose sweat and tears, laughter and joy, victories and mistakes have brought to where we are today. Let’s make learning black history about getting free.

Miss. Judge Indicted 9 Months After Reportedly Hitting Mentally Disabled Man and Yelling ‘Run, N–ger, Run’

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From The Root:

Nine months ago a now-former Mississippi judge is alleged to have smacked a mentally disabled man before yelling, “Run, n–ger, run.” In response to that incident, a grand jury has “served an indictment for simple assault on a vulnerable adult,” the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports.

There was no word on why the process to indict former Madison County Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger took so long, but Weisenberger’s attorney told the newspaper in an emailed statement that the former judge has been cooperative since the alleged May 8 incident.

According to witnesses who spoke with news station WAPT, 20-year-old Eric Rivers, an African-American man with special needs, was working as a traffic monitor and parking attendant at a Canton, Miss., flea market May 8, when Weisenberger reportedly smacked him and yelled, “Run, n–ger, run.”

On Thursday, Weisenberger turned himself in to the Madison County sheriff and was released on $10,000 bond.  

Read the entire story at The Root.

Photo: Screenshot

Kanye: Prophet or Punk

Kanye Grammys

By Keevin Brown

Kanye West’s playful almost interruption of Beck at the Grammy’s was an homage to his actual 2009 Grammy award interruption of Country artist Taylor Swift. The irony of the situation was meant to instill humor and to some level, show a sense of growth and maturity. We as Americans supposedly live in a “post-racial” society, but once again racism rears its ugly head and seems to be the inescapable lens in which we view society.

Due to the antagonistic and outright racist history of America, every interaction between Black and white people is seen through a racialized lens that forces us to question each others intentions. When Kanye faked us all out during Alternative artist Beck’s acceptance speech for Best Album at the Grammy’s, his actions were automatically read as “a Black man picking on a defenseless white guy.” No matter how much Kanye explains that his actions were in jest and that the voices in his head told him to do it (another joke Kanye made that was in jest) he will still be demonized as the “Black bully” who is selective in his victimization to only innocent and unassuming white people.

In an attempt at scolding the Black boogeyman, Garbage singer Shirley Manson in an open letter uses coded language to reprimand Kanye. “You disrespect your own remarkable talents and more importantly you disrespect the talent, hard work and tenacity of all artists when you go so rudely and savagely after such an accomplished and humble artist like BECK.”  Manson’s comments were said in reference to an E! Entertainment post-Grammy’s interview where Kanye espoused his opinion that the Grammy’s don’t respect artistry. Black people have been called “savages” since before the inception of America and for Manson to posit Beck, who is white, as “humble” and Kanye, a Black man, as a “savage” is nothing more than reinforcing tropes of uncivilized Black people who threaten the purity and sanctity of whiteness by virtue of simply existing.

If we are to truly move past America’s bigoted past and present, we need to level the playing field. What Kanye did is exercise his First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Kanye did this is 2009 with Taylor Swift and contemporarily with E! Entertainment. Manson also expressed her opinion, which she has every right to. The only difference is when a powerful Black celebrity like Kanye says something it is viewed as savagery, but when white people in the entertainment industry do it, they are touted as heroes e.g. Seth Rogan and his film The Interview. When Seth Rogan wanted to release his controversial and satirical movie that depicts North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a less than favorable light, Hollywood stood up for him, but when Kanye feels a Beyoncé should win an award over another artist, which is extremely less controversial he is berated in the media. Hollywood backed Rogan, who will stand up for Kanye?

 

 

Jackie Robinson West & Black “Border-Jumping”

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By Elizabeth Todd-Breland

“I wanted to reach out to you to thank and encourage you to continue to speak out against border-jumping families.”  This was the message delivered from a former Little League official to Chris Janes, the white Vice President of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association who accused Jackie Robinson West’s all-black Chicago youth baseball team of violating neighborhood boundary rules in route to winning the 2014 U.S. Little League World Series.  Little League International stripped Jackie Robinson West of its title after an investigation, prompted by Janes’ allegations, found that players did not live within the necessary neighborhood boundaries to play for the team.  The Little League official’s invocation of “border-jumping” was chilling.

In the U.S., border crossing summons powerful images of race, class, and repression, from deported Latino migrants who crossed into the U.S. in search of economic opportunity to African American parents jailed for forging addresses so their children can attend better-resourced schools.  For those fluent in American history, white anxieties about black “border-jumping” are nothing new. However, the former Little League official’s reference to “border-jumping” is also grounded in a white middle-class suburban ideal that links the idea of community to property ownership and residence.  This notion of community is different from the ideal of community that the black families of Jackie Robinson West created in a park on the far south side of Chicago.  In one of the most segregated cities in the country, the borders between black and white Chicagoland have long been contentious and governed by racism.  These borders also generated different types of communities.

Chicago has a long and well documented history of border-creation through segregation in housing and education.  For decades government policies, contract mortgages, restrictive covenants, and racial redlining reinforced segregation and restricted black residents to specific areas on the south and west sides of the city. When these were ruled illegal, less formal geographic barriers including viaducts, highways, railroad lines, and parks continued to serve as convenient lines of racial neighborhood demarcation.   For much of the 20th century, whites defended these borders and barriers to exclude black residents, at times violently.  Despite this, during the latter half of the 20th century many white neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides increasingly transitioned into predominantly black residential neighborhoods.  This change was the result of duplicitous blockbusting practices and white flight to the suburbs, which was aided by federal subsidies.  This history produced the predominantly black communities around Jackie Robinson West’s park on the far south side of the city.

This history also produced the predominantly white suburb of Evergreen Park, IL.  Like many suburbs, Evergreen Park developed as a homogeneous white suburb with a history of racial exclusion.  After World War II, Evergreen Park’s population increased as whites fled the city and its growing black population.  Today, the community is still predominantly white, but is surrounded by Chicago communities with significant black populations.  Recently documented cases of racial profiling in Evergreen Park demonstrate an enduring commitment to policing the racial borders of the community.  So, for many African Americans, the Evergreen Park Athletic Association’s policing of Jackie Robinson West’s border crossing is all too familiar.

Little League International and Chris Janes mobilized white middle-class suburban notions of community and neighborhood that defy the histories and lived experiences of black urban communities.  Little League International projected a concept of neighborhood that “embraces policies designed to preserve traditional community-based leagues in which classmates play with classmates, friends with friends.”  This romantic construction of community is premised on property ownership and residence and was used to punish Jackie Robinson West’s “border-jumping” families.    It obscures the profit-motive imbued in youth sports and imposes a notion of community that is often not possible in black urban neighborhoods.  A sense of community based on property ownership and residence is difficult to sustain black communities that suffer from systemic disinvestment: closed schools, foreclosed homes, commercial flight, and shuttered mental health clinics. This, however, is not to suggest that black urban neighborhoods are void of community.

If anything, the remarkable success and deserved praise of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team showcased the strong sense of community that continues to exist in black neighborhoods.  The families who participated in Jackie Robinson West’s baseball team created community in that park on the south side of Chicago while navigating blended families that straddle the city and suburbs, gentrification and abandonment, neighborhood violence and long-standing block clubs. The social and economic forces that created predominantly white racially exclusionary suburbs like Evergreen Park also fostered the conditions of disinvestment that require black Chicagoans to create a different understanding of community beyond property ownership, residence, and school attendance areas.

When people exclaim that #BlackLivesMatter, they are also declaring that black culture and black communities matter. I stood with my child on the corner of 63rd and Halsted Street this summer with other black parents and grandparents, children from local daycares, and black students and workers from nearby Kennedy-King College, waiting anxiously for the Jackie Robinson West team’s victory motorcade to pass.  The people assembled on those corners did not necessarily live on the nearby blocks, but we were part of a broader community that day: a black community, a community of Chicagoans, a community of “border-jumpers.”  As that crowd swelled with pride, we felt that black lives and black communities, however constituted, mattered.

It is ironic that black kids from segregated black communities are being punished for “border-jumping” onto a team named after Jackie Robinson, a man who is venerated precisely because of his “border-jumping.”  There are many lessons to be learned this Black History Month, but I hope we remember that the black children and families of Jackie Robinson West brought a community and city together on their own terms.  For that, they will always be champions, regardless of others’ attempts to patrol borders.  

 

Photo: Jackie Robinson West/White House

Nikisha, One Half of Urban Bush Babes, Talks About Her Struggle With Mental Illness

From Afropunk:

Watch this enlightening video on a subject many of us shy away from, suicide and mental health. Nikisha, one half of the Urban Bush Babes (the online beauty and culture publication) lets all bare as she discusses her history of ADHD & Anxiety Disorder, and her son’s diagnosis with the disorder.

h/t Afropunk

Watch: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Trailer

From Clutch:

In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war.

Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, Straight Outta Compton is directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Italian Job). The drama is produced by original N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who are joined by fellow producers Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright. Will Packer serves as executive producer of the film alongside Gray.
h/t Clutch

Is ‘Orange’ the New Green?

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From the Chicago Reporter:

Most people see a jail and think about crime, tragedy and heartbreak.

Others see dollar signs. That’s because incarceration can be a big money maker.

Consider the drab polyester and cotton scrubs worn by detainees and inmates at Cook County Jail, where about 100,000 people are booked annually. (At County, the men wear tan and the women wear blue, not the more infamous orange.)

In 2012, Ohio-based company Pyramid Enterprise Supplies, a minority-owned business that also provides Smith and Wesson handcuffs and leg locks to the jail, won a two-year,  almost $1.7 million county contract to provide the Cook County Department of Corrections with clothes, undergarments and accessories. Jail executive director Cara Smith said the county activated the first of three renewal options for the contract last fall at an additional cost of about $340,000.

The original contract included more than 50,000 inmate uniforms, totaling about $600,000.

  • The uniforms were manufactured by Gardena, Calif.-based Robinson Textiles—a company whose alleged ties to sweatshop labor in the Dominican Republic ran afoul of San Francisco officials in 2012.Alleged violations included problems with worker health and safety, wages and sexual harassment.
  • When Robinson Textiles shut down in 2014, the Bob Barker Company agreed to fulfill Robinson Textiles’ contract obligations. Those obligations now include supplying Pyramid with uniforms for Cook County inmates.
  • In 2008, the Bob Barker Co., a family-owned business based in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., also was accused of using sweatshop labor. The allegations stem from work at a Bangladesh factory that supplied the company with inmate undergarments. Workers allegedly complained they were beaten for making mistakes or refusing shifts, forced to work strenuous 18-hour shifts or work overtime if they fell short of hard-to-meet production targets.
  • Touted as the nation’s premier detention supplies provider, the company has won other contracts tosupply inmate shoesjuvenile detention uniforms and mattresses. Records show Bob Barker Co. has been awarded at least $13 million in federal prison system contracts since 1995, including agreements with about 100 federal prisons across the country.
  • In 2009, Bob Barker Co., which has nothing to do with the popular TV game show host, founded a nonprofit foundation to help fund programs focused on reducing the number of incarcerated people who return to jail.

Read the entire article on the Chicago Reporter

Photo: Sophia Nahli Allison

Stay Mad Then! : In Defence of The Right To Be Angry

Kanye Grammys

On Kanye West, Azealia Banks and a call for a deeper reading of their rage.

By Jay Dodd

Kanye’s narrative has been riddled with often sloppily generalised tantrums. While we must hold him accountable to his “seat at the table aspirations,” we often, as consumers of his frequency of Blackness, only hear him as whiny child begging for attention. In 2009, when Kanye stormed theMTV VMA’s to call out the injustice of Taylor Swift winning Best Female Video over Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, official lines in the sand were drawn in the Kanye Fan Club. Some supported him: critics fetishizing his Black Boy rage, BeyHive stans who wanted to do it themselves, and me, clearly (sorry bout it). Others saw this act as yet another temper tantrum from the oft caustic and flippant egoist Mr. West. 

Black artists who cry out are dismissed and sensationalized a hyper-sensitive.

In the time since, we have seen him marry into a pop cultural case study of race, class, and positionings of Blackness, all while trying to negotiate his own. And since the birth of his daughter he has taken on new forms and new languages for his work. Last night he performed both his recent homage the lineage of woman in his life , and his conversation about respectability with Rihanna (“Only One,” and “FourFiveSeconds,” respectively). Kanye, his mouth, (his dick) and his whole brand are constantly seen through a lens of anger. But recently, he has shared with us smiles and some thought things were “safe”, however: Kanye West absolutely cares about Blackness and artistry.

As part of the anti-black violence “some call cultural smudging” in the popular culture, we see this trope of the Angry Black Folk. They speak out the mouth, they clap back, they embarass & destroy. Kanye has screamed out at varying levels of injustice, and at each of them we should attempt make a space to hear it. While often misread as infraction, Black artists who cry out are dismissed and sensationalized a hyper-sensitive. While this violence on Kanye is a child like caricature and salivation at his smile, this violence is compounded for Black women.

From the grave understating of Janet Mock’s byline, to the racist vitriol from Rosie O’Donnell this week against Lauren Chief Elk; rage and clap back on Black women is shamed and essentialised. While several Black female artist, there is a particular defense available for emcee and teen witch Azealia Banks. Our conversations often position Banks as angry Black girl. Her language, often without nuance and absent critical construction, can read has “terror”-inducing and occasionally complete reproduces problematic violence. However, that explosive narrative, she also calls out the racism of the cis-queer community and resists notions of submission. In her rage, critics are quick to strip her of her openly queer identity. It appears folks want to sanitize her queerness to delegitimate her critiques.

While her responses are flippant, the accusation of Azealia’s “homophobia” seem unfounded because she has been openly queer since her first big hit“212”. Her interactions with Perez opened a flood-gate of Twitter beefs combating the racism (internalized and otherwise) in Hip Hop and the language-policing of Black artist. She has tuned her outcries toward the cultural erasure happening in Hip Hop and connected it to the larger conversation of anti-Blackness in America. There is a productive space for Azealia’s resistance. So, how are we to take these complicatedly justifed angry Black folk. For Kanye and Azealia are speaking to a bubling national conversation of Black artists, activists, people tired of being denied humanity and credibility. Though aspirations of validation are varied, there is a consistent desire to be seen .To be seen by your own, to be seen as human, to be seen as worth something. Banks and West cry out to be seen, and reserve the right to.

For Kanye and Azealia are speaking to a bubbling national conversation of Black artists, activists, people tired of being denied humanity and credibility.

Mitigating Black anger is an often used as tool in the erasure of Blackness in popular culture; capitalizing on its sub/superhuman quality, why pathologically killing Black people in the flesh. To quell, or quench or smother Black rage is an often tried tactic of institutions built around language and media. In the ways that, Martin Luther King Jr. can be painted as soft or easy or unradical, he outcried with such rage he too was target. Anger on Black bodies circumvents any performance of respectability, they will be read as dangerous in life, and eviscerated in death.Kanye decided, last night, to mitigate his own anger. He, whether premeditated or knee jerk, did not throw a tantrum on stage. He spoke to a center of pop culture in America. He laughed and smiled through crying injustice. He negotiated rage into a language he has been attempting to acquire seemingly since his debut.

If Kanye has learned anything in his fame’s trajectory, it is subversiveness breeds conversation. He juxtaposes personal understandings of class, sexuality, and most often race in culturally accepted locations. His sex-tape capitalizing wife on his the cover of Voguehis capsule collection of jeans and t-shirts; these subversive dichotomies are revealing of his new languages of resistance. Academic and Activist, Zoe Samudzi recently tweeted that: “Black Skinhead” from 2013’s Yeezus,is “a dissonance of being conscious and seeming to so desperately to want [to be] this king of the world artistic genius celebrity.” These cultural paradoxes are sometimes frustrating with his brand of brash messaging but he consistently has wanted Blackness and artistry to be linked and celebrated. He is more than just saying what we think, he is rattling our notion of popularity and disarming what we rely on as the angry Black man trope.

The Grammy’s, like other growingly archaic award shows, have made it clear that Blackness is not valued only “profitable”. Many argue that outrage against the consistent erasure and rejection of Black art is not productive. We must consider that Kanye, like Ava Duvernay in her Oscar snub, know their artistry exists whether or not these “academies” recognise it or not. While Black artists all choose to push back or respond to such dismissal differently, we need to make a space for frustration and anger that comes along with being framed as unworthy. There is a place for Kanye, and angry Black folk.

This post originally appeared on VSnotebook

Photo: Youtube/Screenshot

Black Future Month: Why “History” Don’t Satisfy

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By Aziza Barnes

On my phone in a group text, November 2014.

I’m in a 3 way conversation with my homegirls post Darren Wilson non-indictment/Daniel Pantaleo’s non-indictment/ post we-lost-track-of- the- names- the murderers- and- how- much- they- get- paid. We’re numb, the way people get during war time to make it through the day. We’ve been waiting for the verdicts. We’ve watched every trail on live stream. We are each childless, but full of the possibility of becoming a Black American Mother. It’s as if we are watching our stock plummet exponentially.  I type, “we gotta get outta here.”

She type, “and go where?”

I type, “I don’t know.”

She type, “you don’t know cuz there’s nowhere.”

And she type, “Pick a country that don’t have a history of killing black folks and enjoying it.”

And she type, “It’s every country. It’s the world. “

And she type, “There’s no place for us to go.”

I type, “maybe it’s not about our bodies anymore.”

She type, “it’s always been about the body.”

I type, “Not moving them anywhere. Something different gotta move now.”

I start watching the video of Eric Garner’s wife rejecting Daniel Pantaleo’s apology for choking her husband to death. Flying Lotus’s “You’re Dead” album plays on my laptop speakers, a music video of “Coronus: the Terminator,” on the following tab. As with most of Fly Lo’s recent music videos, it begins with a depiction of a Black man on his deathbed. The video is of his afterlife. This man, post mortem, walks through his house to find Flying Lotus and two other Black men covered in white powder, sitting in anticipation in his family living room. They sing, “the days of men are coming to an end…so come with me, if you want to live…” Our group text peters off because we are mourning and still have to go work and still have to buy groceries and still have to pay the light bill so Con Edison don’t show up at our doors. Still. The song plays on, “there’s nowhere left to go, so I’d like to save you…my hands been bloody since the day I came…” Eric Garner’s wife leaves the podium. I imagine the night after the press subside. She’ll go home. Her husband won’t be there. She will tuck her children in. She will clean the bathtub. She will begin the daily process of staying here.

Eric Garner’s wife is doing the thing Black Americans have historically done since our introduction to The West, and continue to do (as far into the future we allow ourselves to be seen). She is trying to: “freak it,” “make it work,”  “work it out,” “make it happen,” “make something out of nothing,” “a way outta no way,” “suck it up,” “keep it pushin’,” “figure it out,” “handle it” “get the job done,” “take care of it,” “hold it down,” and all other variety of phrases Black folks have built that say, essentially, “do an impossible thing and do it seamlessly.” It’s a cool behaviorism. Don’t get hot. Don’t let them get you worked up. Even in death. Shit, primarily in death. Maybe it’s the reality for people whose bodies have been commodified. Death can’t afford more time than necessary. You’re on The Clock. You’re forever bound to the moment. To work. Grief can linger. But not the moment of death. As a potential Black American Mother, this is a future I can look forward to. As a potential Black American Mother, this is my history.

I return to Flying Lotus. Play the video “Never Gonna Catch Me” featuring Kendrick Lamar. The scene: a funeral parlor in Central LA, the city I grew up. A church of Black folk wearing black. Two caskets. One with a girl, no older than 7 or 8. One with a boy, same age. The scene is familiar. The photos surrounding each child’s coffin are familiar. The candles. The choir clapping, trying to raise their spirits. I’ve been to this scene. For my cousin. For my friends. Someone killed the kids. It’s not unusual. It was police. It was other kids who’ve been victimized by the police. So, it was the police. This particular video doesn’t say. I understand where I am until the kids wake up, leap out and start dancing this intricate swing routine in front of their families, their congregation, who don’t notice their bodies in motion, who continue to mourn. Kendrick’s lyrics fly behind their impossible dance, “I got mind control when I’m here/ you gon’ hate me when I’m gone/ ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear/ I got hope inside of my bones / this that life beyond your own life/ this say this go for mankind / this that outer-body experience / no coincidence you been died/ you are dead.” Out of body experience. Escaping the body. Not out of shame of being Black. Out of necessity for survival. I’m intrigued by the thought.

As this February comes around in 2015, I realize that it ain’t the first time the phrase “Black History” has felt redundant. History doesn’t serve me the way it used to. Of course we have a history. We relive it, are engulfed by it, traumatized with its revival on a consistent and daily basis. We know, intuitively, that Emmett Till is Trayyvon Martin is Sean Bell is Oscar Grant is. It’s our lineage. Claudia Rankine says as much in her most recent printing of “Citizen,” with the extended passage of yet-to-be-dedicated Black men yet-to-be-killed. I look at science fiction in tandem with our current news headlines and am overwhelmed with our erasure as a people. Can we envision ourselves 10 years from now on Earth? 50? A century? We haven’t been given the luxury given our need for a culture of survival. A culture of survival is fortified by history. By how we’ve overcome before. That we can do it again. The impossible thing and do it seamlessly. What lies beyond the point of “freaking it?” “Making it work?” “A way out of no way?”

Can we envision ourselves beyond our bodies, as Flying Lotus does? Lotus reminds me of the works of other Afrofuturists, in the tradition of Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, Janelle Monae, P-Funk/Parliament Funk-a-delic: seeing past Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and into, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot / stop and/ let me/ ride!” An escape. A future. A commitment to our Decided Exodus. We know what’s going on. And we gotta dip on out. For P-Funk, Space was the place. A “Mothership Connection.” A new frontier and we don’t got to be the cargo? I’ll fly that ship quick. Eric Garner’s wife refuses to appease the white gaze upon her, refuses to make her imminent future opaque. She says, “hell no. The time for remorse was when my husband was yelling to breathe…no, I don’t care about his apology because he’s still working. He’s still getting a pay check. Feeding his kids. And my husband is 6 feet under and I’m trying to find a way to feed my kids now.” Find a way. Steal away. We know this tune. I’m invested in “that life beyond you own life.” For Eric Garner’s wife. For every potential Black American Mother. I’m invested in Black Future Month for this 2015. Getting past “a way outta no way” and into uncharted territory of a life without the negation. Without the “no way.”

 

Aziza Barnes is blk & alive. Born in Los Angeles, she currently lives in Bedstuy, New York. Her first chapbook, me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun, was the first winner of the Exploding Pinecone Prize and published July 2013 from Button Poetry. You can find her work in PANK, pluck!, Muzzle, Callaloo, Union Station, and other journals. She is a poetry & non-fiction editor at Kinfolks Quarterly, a Callaloo fellow and graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is a member of The Dance Cartel & the divine fabrics collective.  She loves a good suit & anything to do with Motown.